Superhero Volunteer Management – Part Two

Is it time to put on the cape?

First appeared as a guest post courtesy of Rob Jackson Consulting 28/09/2018 

So picture the scene, there you are on the streets of Gotham and all hell breaks loose, the crowd starts to panic, the bad guys are about to unleash some deadly evil.  But wait, in the distance you see a figure with that iconic mask, his black cape flying behind him and you know it’s all going to be OK.

Let’s re-play that…there you are on the streets of Gotham all hell breaks loose the crowd starts to panic, the bad guys are about to unleash some deadly evil.  But wait, in the distance you see a bloke in jeans and a t-shirt.  At which point you probably don’t give him a second thought because you are too busy wondering how on earth you are going to get out of the mayhem that’s happening around you.

How is it we know who the good guys are and that they are here to save the day? The costume is key – we see it, we instantly recognise it, we know what it stands for, what to expect and who we want to give our allegiance to.

So what’s the relevance of this to us as volunteering professionals?

If you look at things from the perspective of colleagues in other disciplines it can be difficult to understand who we are and what we do for a number of reasons. For example:

  • They don’t see a regular crop of university graduates in volunteer management coming into the sector, which is the norm in many other disciplines – indeed many of us started out as something else entirely before we found volunteer management and decided we wanted to pursue it.
  • We tend to move around a lot – because there isn’t a clear career path we tend to move organisations or even sectors. This may mean that we know lots about our discipline but we don’t necessarily have a depth of knowledge about the sector we are about to join.
  • What we do and what we are called is a bit of a minefield – I’ve met people with the same job title that do different jobs; people with different titles that do the same thing; organisations that are worried about using the word ‘manager’ so come up with creative job titles; volunteer co-ordinators (some of whom are paid) and volunteer managers (some of whom aren’t).  And what’s the difference between a Volunteering Development Manager and a Volunteering Development Consultant (either internal or external)?
  • You may not even consider yourself a Volunteer Manager if it’s something you do in addition to your ‘proper job’, and that’s assuming it’s even in your job description!

Why does any of this matter? 

Consider some of the common challenges we face (these are generalisations but you’re probably familiar with a few of them): 

  • Always last to get an invite to the party – so the project started some time ago and nobody thought to mention it to you but at the eleventh hour you get a call to find 50 volunteers for the launch three weeks from now.
  • You have a tough time securing funding for your work/team, particularly for new initiatives, even though everybody wants more volunteers and wants them to do even more.
  • There’s a formula for working out the monetary value of the contribution your volunteers make for the annual report but it doesn’t mention all of the other benefits that volunteers bring to your organisation.
  • Volunteers are free, therefore it follows that managing volunteers is easy – some senior managers hold the view that it’s easy, anyone can do it and therefore it doesn’t require as much resource (people) or expertise (funding) as other disciplines.
  • You’re called in to fix problems when things have reached melting point more often than to explore new ways of engaging people in volunteering for your organisation.

Could these be the result of our unclear identity? Does everyone in your organisation have the same clear understanding of your role and the value you bring to your organisation?  Only last week a long time colleague that I hadn’t see for a while asked me if I was ‘still doing my volunteering stuff’; after more than two decades working in the field I’ll admit to being more than a little disappointed.

So where do we go from here, how can we support each other in forging a clear identity and raising awareness of our Superhero selves? Here are a few thoughts from me to get the ball rolling:

  • Join a professional body such as the Association of Volunteer Managers, to be a part of the growing network of national and international volunteering professionals.
  • Join the Thoughtful Thursday discussions on Twitter (#ttvolmgrs) to contribute to the discussion on the latest thinking and developments.
  • Support one of your external volunteering colleagues by offering to talk to their organisation about what’s happening in our field and invite them to do the same for you.
  • Talk about what you are up to and the impact it has on your organisation internally, externally and online and help raise the profile of the work that we do.
  • Mentor a colleague and support their development
  • Share your thoughts/ideas/pictures on how you are creating a stronger sense of identity within your organisation on Twitter #SuperheroVM

I’ll look forward to hearing your ideas; meantime I will be dusting off my sewing machine, so if you are looking for me I’ll be the one in the distance with the pink hair and the nifty purple cape.………….to infinity and beyond……………..

PS. You’ll find the pattern here

Food for thought, discussion and debate by Carol Carbine

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